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People at the Port: Marin Burnett

Meet Marin Burnett, the Port’s Strategic Planning Manager, and an experienced Artist whose work is featured on Metro buses city-wide.

As a Strategic Planning Manager, Marin ensures that the work done across the Port aligns with the Century Agenda by providing advice and support on strategic planning for teams. Marin states that the best part of her job is, “getting to think for a living and helping my colleagues problem solve. It is a challenge at times to synthesize work across the organization – but that makes success all the more rewarding.” Prior to arriving at the Port and Seattle, Marin was a Principle Analyst for the Congressional Budget Office in Washington, DC where she spent many years estimating the economic impacts of legislation considered by the Congress and creating estimates of the federal deficit. She was also a Senior Policy Advisor to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine in Baltimore, MD. In her free time, Marin creates art that focuses on portraiture and the human form.

Marin’s work has been featured in multiple galleries including:

In collaboration with the Henry Art Museum, multiple buses traveling various King County routes are featuring a piece created by Marin from her Refracted Saints series. Today we chat with Marin to learn more about her journey as an Artist.

How would you describe your art and when did you start your journey as an artist?

I started creating art about 15 years ago. I had just moved to DC from my home in NY and wanted to paint one of my walls bright red. I was talked into buying some large canvases and painting those instead. I re-painted those canvases over a dozen times and realized that I loved it. At that point I had never tried portraiture, but I grew into it over time. I paint in soft pastels, charcoal and oils. I work mostly in portraits and images of the human form and experience, in particular that of the black woman in America.

What inspires your work as an artist? What do you hope people feel or learn from your artwork?

My art is inspired by the experience of the black woman, my own experience, and how I can capture feelings and emotions through portraits. I hope viewers experience the joy and pain that can go along with our humanity and in particular the humanity of the “other”… whatever that may be.

Art: Refracted Saint No. 1 by Marin Burnett
Refracted Saint No. 1 by Marin Burnett

Refracted Saint No. 1 is displayed on buses in King County. What is the meaning behind this piece?

The work at the Henry is the first of my Refracted Saints series. In it, I reflect on my experience as a Black woman in America…. I challenge the distorted and fragmented images of Black women through a societal lens, drawing a parallel to how light refracts around an object as it moves through water. Refracted Saint No. 1 envisions the differences between how Black women view themselves and the ways others see them. The work depicts a Black female body as a "whole saint" adorned with only a halo. Set against a vibrant gilded background, she occupies space with her refracted reflection in water.

As we pass through an intolerant society, our image is distorted, our light and our sainthood refracted – but we are somehow still whole. Real saints are not gilded, they are pained, flawed, and beautiful people.

What do you hope people take away from this piece?

I hope they see a vision of themselves or of anyone around them. The idea behind the piece is that there are multiple “versions” of ourselves… of black women in particular. The way we are perceived by others can be a broken or refracted vision of who we know ourselves to be. Black women are often asked to be only small pieces of their whole, or they are asked to “refract” or bend their true selves into what others can accept. This leaves us broken, but somehow “whole.” Place a straight branch in water and it will appear to bend or break at odd angles, showing your eyes something that isn’t there. That is what it can be like moving through the world as a black person. Your whole self passing through society’s lens. They see something that isn’t there… images of you that are bent or broken… while you remain fundamentally unchanged. Or do you?

What is next for you? What are some of your goals, either personally or professionally?

I would like to continue exhibiting work on a larger scale and hopefully make people think about themselves and others differently.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to express themselves creatively but is afraid of the response they might get?

If I showed you my FIRST portrait, you would think it was drawn by a 10 year old and I was about 30. In ten years, I have trained myself in ways I didn’t know possible. We all have a gift, we just have to be brave enough to explore. I’m now 40 years old and didn’t think exhibiting at the Henry would be possible just 6 months ago. The point is… you never know! If you want to be great at something, you have to be willing to be bad at it first.

Discover more of Marin’s art on her website

Published Date
Jan 29, 2021
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